Understand from a higher perspective.
This is a case study for the app HIGH — a speciality journal designed to document and track cannabis use and meet the specific needs of cannabis enthusiasts.

My responsiblities for this project are as follows:

Research & Strategy
User Interface Design
Cannabis is an abstract experience.
Journaling helps provides insight into yourself and your experience.
The Cannabis Space
“Because everyone’s physiology and Endocannabinoid System is different, the effects of cannabis are highly individualized. Your experience will depend on many personal factors, such as your previous experience with cannabis, your age, gender, and your overall mental and physical health.”
Cannabis presents a complex range of factors that all combine to produce an experience for the user, either positively or negatively. Charting these experiences as unique to an individual is the only way to have a solid understanding of what effects to expect. Journaling this process is helpful to keep track and reference what Cannabis was used, how it was used, and what effects it rendered. The app I am developing provides a system for a user to do this conveniently from their iPhone.
The factors of influence are vastly complex across the different compounds present in the hundreds of strains of the Cannabis plant and its different species or hybrids. The cannabinoids present in Cannabis interacts with the human body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce novel experiences, and altered states of mind and sensation to either positive or negative effect.
Every person has a unique biology and psychological state, influenced though stress, genetics, gender, and much else. This means that each person experiencing Cannabis will experience it in a somewhat unique way. Further complicating the process is method of intake which influences and produces difference results and effects, be that ingestion or inhalation for example.
The problem space is complex, some Journals exist currently in paper form, which are inconvenient to use. Some apps exists that let you track your experience but they are limited and the design is poor.
I have identified a dedicated Cannabis Journaling app as the problem space
to work within.
Identifying Current Solutions
The cannabis space is newly emerging. There are some partial solutions to cannabis journaling currently, however none are really ideal in the digital space.
Leafly is a web and app based cannabis information resource. It features profiles on strains, accepts reviews, and lists local dispensaries. It has some powerful features, however it’s design is somewhat clunky and the journaling/rating aspect is not a primary focus of the the experience and the process is poorly designed. It also suffers bloat with intrusive ads, cannabis related news, and editorial content.
The OCS is Ontario’s only legal online cannabis retailers. It sells product and offers basic information about potency ranges and botanical information. Aside from the basic information given, they don’t offer any solutions to journal or rate cannabis experiences.
Goldleaf is a lifestyle brand selling physical goods related to Cannabis culture, medical use, and enjoyment. They are focused on the luxury space, and provide quality physical books to document medical therapies as well as recreational interests. Alongside the journals, they sell a number of decorative printed goods and accessories.
They do not currently offer a digital / mobile version of their product.
Many Cannabis enthusiasts employ a simple notes app to take down information. Interviews and research showed that keeping a notes file was a popular solution for some cannabis enthusiasts. However the limitations in this process provide many drawbacks to actively maintaining the journaling process.
To build the prototype for HIGH. It was important to build out the core experience of the app. I focused the task flow around the ideal path a user would take to search for a specific strain of cannabis using the convenient barcode scanner, and then go about the process of writing a review for the product and filling in a story to accompany the experience.
Interviewing Cannabis Users
I interviewed serious cannabis users to gain insight for how my target user thinks about cannabis. These enthusiasts  together have more than 50 years of smoking history amongst them, and I noticed some common themes to take into consideration:

Users often forget what cannabis they have smoked in the past.
Users want personal solutions.
Users are convinced they have unique reactions to cannabis and that popular notions of effects are not always accurate.
Users find it difficult to know which cannabis to purchase.
Users find it difficult to know which cannabis is similar to another and how to seek out specific aspects.
Users each have unique interests and qualities they value when buying cannabis.
Users often forget what effects they felt from the cannabis they smoked in the past.
Users are interested in pursuing more of the aesthetic taste profiles within terpenes.
Users are enthusiastic about cannabis and use it daily.
Users currently track cannabis using simple text files or not at all, and consider the process unideal and painful.
Users want to be able to rate and define by effect and experience the cannabis they have recently tried.
Users are interested in exploring various strains and trying new things.
Initially I had assumed that cannabis users would really want something to just recommend what to buy, however what I discovered in my research is that is not really possible, and that it's not especially desirable. Discovering and trying new strains is an enjoyable step. Two subjects I interviewed both kept a notes file on their phone to track their experiences, however they both complained that it was not an ideal process.
I then decided to focus my attention for this project on the journaling of cannabis use. Which lead me to the foundational how might we question that framed this entire project.
Initial Research and Insights

Before starting this project, I took a look at my assumptions to get a grasp of what production of this app would involve and where I should focus my concerns.
I believe my customers have a need to
Develop a better understanding of their cannabis use and preferences.

These needs can be solved with/by
A personal journaling, tracking, and rating process - augmented with crowd sourced recommendations.

My initial users are (or will be)
Cannabis users, primarily recreational users.

The #1 value a user wants from my product/service is
To understand their cannabis tastes and preferences and be able to reliably choose the most ideal strains for them.

The user can also get these additional benefits
By increasing general knowledge about cannabis and a feeling of deeper connection with the inner self both physically and psychologically.

I will acquire the majority of my users through
Word of mouth, targeted advertising, editorial coverage, advertising.

I will make money by
paid app, or in line advertising (TBD).

My primary competition in the marketplace will be
Leafly, handwritten physical journals,

We will beat them due to
Having a focus on the personal journey and experience vs the cannabis space in general. As well as having a superior and more attractive design, with simpler layout and less bloat.

My biggest risk is
If a more substantially financed and developed application competes in the space and gains initial user traction in this relatively new space that hasn’t been developed thoroughly developed yet.

We will solve this through
Coming to market first, having a very attractive and well designed platform, and capturing the majority of current target users.

Other assumptions that, if proven false, will cause this project to fail
I assume that Cannabis will continue to expand into the legal space globally and that the United States will follow suit within the next few years. I assume that there will be no major health scare links found to Cannabis use and that there will be no governmental regulations against the app I am building.

I created two personas, one in the recreational cannabis space, one in the medical cannabis space. I wanted to explore the needs of both users and discover which my app should focus on.
With further research, I discovered that the recreational space was more interesting and more free to work within as the medicinal space has large degrees of complexity and would be best suited to approach after initially developing a product for  recreation cannabis users.
I created an experience map for my main persona to help understand the current experience of cannabis users.
Low Fidelity Screens

Early Sketches of screens. I initially thought I was going to do some kind of recommendation app in the cannabis space. But I decided to pivot when I noticed there are a couple well established apps in that space already.

In the initial stages of ideation and testing, I explored concepts of minimalism, but found that I needed to add in more context based on user tests and feedback.

Early Development
User Stories
After conducting interviews with cannabis users, I synthesized the findings down to common elements that overlapped. These user stories formed the basis of my design process.
Users often forget what cannabis they have smoked in the past.
Users want a personal solution.
Users are convinced they have unique reactions to cannabis and that popular conceptions of effects are not always accurate.
Users find it difficult to know which cannabis to purchase.
Users find it difficult to know which cannabis is similar to another and how to seek out specific aspects.
Users each have unique interests and qualities they value when buying cannabis.
Users often forget what effects they felt from the cannabis they smoked in the past.
Users are interested in pursuing more of the aesthetic taste profiles within terpenes.
Users are enthusiastic about cannabis and use it daily.
Users currently track cannabis using simple text files or not at all, and consider the process unideal and painful.
Users want to be able to rate and define by effect and experience the cannabis they have recently tried.
Users are interested in exploring various strains and trying new things.
Questions That Were Asked To The Testers While Using The Prototype

What do you think of the language?
Is anything unclear?
What do you think of the sub-line info?
What would you prefer it to say? (In reference to comments about the language used)
What else would you like to see provided?
What do you think of the icons?
What do you think of the experience?
What would you like to see added?
Could you explain how this element was generated in the example?
How readable and understandable is the terminology?
Do you think things are too general, or should be more specific or are just right being open? And why, please elaborate.
How do you imagine the working version would animate based on this prototype?
High Fidelity Screens
Keeping with the design inspiration and feel, I created high fidelity designs. It was important to keep the feel of the product spacious and clean. I wanted to avoid garish or obnoxious colours (greens, tie-dye, etc) and keep the feel of the product mature and sophisticated to suit the target user. 
All my interview subjects took cannabis use seriously — however there is one statement that stuck with me explicitly to inform the design direction.
Question: What don’t you enjoy about weed?

"Stoner culture. If I download your app, and it calls me bro'sh, and everything is a 420 pun — I’m deleting it right away."
Interview Subject 3
Marketing and Online Promotion
The concept of journaling cannabis use is likely to be unknown to many casual cannabis users, so it was important to build a responsive marketing site a user could go to to learn about the app.
Another consideration is how cannabis is becoming even more so a lifestyle activity than it was before. With legalization, lifestyle editorials are covering the cannabis space with more blog posts and articles. Having a linkable product site is critical to attract new users. 
Designing for an Alternate Platform - macOS App

HIGH as a macOS app

Designing for mobile first is a popular method for modern app and service design. However the cross platform ecosystem is important. Users expect to put one device down and resume what they were doing on another more convenient device. Since Journaling can sometimes be an involved process, I considered how a potential user may want to type at length on a desktop, or draw in photos from a photos library on a large screen. Furthermore, I considered that a user may wish to review their entries on their desktop. So it made the most sense to begin exploring a macOS version of HIGH to pair with the iOS experience.

Rolling Paper — Embers — Self — Graduating Waves — Introspection — Void / Space / Sky — Clarity — Light — Mindfulness

This moodboard represents the aspirations values of HIGH and reflects the emotive feelings and intended associations of the product.

Some visual influential themes relating to app are:
Organic / Plant / Internal / Elegance / Cannabis / Self / Elusiveness / Order / Sublime
One of the first graphical things I approached for this project was the app icon. The cannabis leaf is a common design shape, however it is also very effective. I wanted to keep within the realm of the expected shape but find a way to explore it in a slightly different manner. I decided to simplify the shape and smooth out the serrated teeth normally associated with the plant. I found that this produced a greater sense of calm and sophistication. I drew inspiration in the lotus flower pattern which is similar to cannabis in the way it is often reproduced. The lotus flower carries many associations of eastern mindfulness practice, and that association worked nicely when applied to the distinct shape of the cannabis leaf.
Ui Library
I established a colour pallet based around the pale warm tones of raw hemp and neutrals with a magenta for slight accents here and there. The purple / magenta is well within the colour vernacular of marijuana so it seemed fitting. I purposely avoided green because I feel that colour is too easy, too over done, and already in association with many aspects of cannabis that do not suit the feel and styling of HIGH.
The primary colour pallet was inspired by the pale yellow colour of raw hemp. The colour worked nicely as a subtle background element, somewhat like a "warmer white" - however it quickly became bland. I decided to use the colour as a base and pump the saturation up on it to produce various shades of tan. This I found to be very successful as it had much more life, while still maintaining a degree of sophistication. It contrasts well with white and black neutrals and allows the accept purple to really pop. 
HIGH is laid out in the Gotham typeface. It is a beautiful and modern sans serif that carries a cool, understated sophistication and neutrality. It was important to not have anything too ornate. Gotham works beautifully. The majority of the app is laid out in the Medium weight. The Medium carries a nice impact without feeling heavy.

Gotham Bold 

Gotham Medium

Gotham Regular

The Tarot Cards of Tech
How might cultural habits change how your product is used? And how might your product change cultural habits?

Cannabis is extremely culturally related and influences many different societal groups and areas of culture. Some consider it a gateway drug to ruining one’s life, while others think of it as literally  a religious experience —  so it is curious to consider the impact HIGH would have on cultural habits and what would be different if cultural habits changed.
The most likely future state of accepts habits and cultural norms seems to be moving towards a destigmatization of psychoactive drugs in general, not just cannabis. There is a current wave of cannabis legalization happening on a global scale.
And with that acceptance other more powerful psychoactive compounds (psilocybin and MDMA most notably) are becoming reclassified and studied. Mass cultural opinion is starting to shift towards a more accepted use of drugs as tools to both enhance states of mind, as well as bring relief to stress, anxiety and depressions.
HIGH is currently focused on enthusiast cannabis users with experienced awareness and a certain kind of aesthete appreciation for the nuances of self improvement and self realization. If cannabis use was to become more wide spread, it might be prudent to open the app up to a more general audience and provide more complexity to meet the needs of different types of users.

What context would an alien from outer space need to use or understand your product? 👽

An Alien would have to understand that the purpose of this app is to help users gain useful insights into personal experience during a practice that is inherently nebulous and abstract.
They would need to understand that sometimes a novel view on reality, or one’s inner self is very beneficial for wellbeing. These aliens would also have to understand that (at least for humans) there is a complex and poorly understood correlation between states of mind and the physical body which can be illuminated somewhat by exploring aspects of mind and consciousness. 
Understanding these states though the journaling process can cultivate a kind of awareness that is useful to diminish sensations of physical pain or discomfort — and because finding the right mix of substance and setting is critical, this app would act as an aid to help a human, or perhaps even an alien — achieve a better understanding of themselves.
Furthermore, there is also potential to alleviate physical states of discomfort though introducing Cannabidiol (CBD) into the human endocannabinoid system. 

What social norms, etiquette or traditions could change because of your product?

HIGH is already capitalizing on the cannabis zeitgeist and related areas of interest such as self-reflection and mindfulness. Psychedelics and psychoactive compounds are written about in major best selling books, Millions of dollars are being invested in legal cannabis production, and influential thought leaders like Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, Tim Farris, Michael Pollan and more are advocating for the usefulness of mind altering substances.
Society is shifting its position on demonizing drugs in general. Focusing on the optimistic effects and outcomes,  there could be a lessening of pharmaceutical drug use and dependance for both pain and depression, as well as a solution to the rampant waves of anxiety millennials and gen Y are reporting in record numbers.
When you picture your user base, who is excluded? If they used your product, what would their experience be like?

HIGH’s target user is a recreational cannabis consumer with an interest in self exploration and a keen interest in marijuana itself. As such, the rating and journaling process is presented in a simple manner to avoid tedium and fit with the lifestyle of recreational users. Medicinal users on require much more granularity to track and review complex and specific effects. Symptoms and responses to symptoms can be extremely intricate. The complex system of tracking for medical purposes can be useful for subjects looking to manage debilitating symptoms that are difficult to treat otherwise, however this process would come off as dense and unwelcoming for recreational users. The current state of the app doesn’t present enough granularity to satisfy medical users. It is possible that additional modes could be enabled for enhanced modular complexity to create a rating and journaling system to fit to each user’s needs, however getting that right would be challenging and take time to develop properly.
Whose perspective is missing from product development?

Purely medicinal users positions are missing from the development of the app. Those seeking exclusively CBD effects on the body were not especially consulted. My initial research into medical tracking services, both in traditional hand written mediums and in apps presented a dense range of complexity. Tracking medicinal physical effects exclusively would demand their own range of focus, and the illustrative journaling aspect would probably not be needed — save for some basic notes perhaps. It would be interesting to do some further exploration and research into this area though. The biggest pain point to tracking the medicinal side of cannabis use is the complexity of an individuals unique situation, ailments and needs, as such each user would need a very customizable system. It would be interesting to rebuild the app so a user could customize and enable or disable different aspects to create an ideal experience. However, this is all initial assumptions, and further research of medical cannabis users would be needed to  inform the idea design path for their needs.

Pretend the opposite of your assumptions about your core user are true — how does this change your product?

My core assumptions expect my users to be people who are passionate about cannabis and interested in tracking and monitoring to find ideal states of being. I also assume that they will be willing to continue this process in an ongoing manner by seeking new strains and continuing the practice of monitoring over time. If any or all of these criteria were untrue, it would largely defeat the purpose of a journaling app. In which case, in order to continue the product it might require a transition to more of a traditional lifestyle product with editorial content, e-commerce properties, and focus on recommendations. There are aspects of  this that are interesting that could potentially benefit HIGH even now in its current state. However an app that can do everything rarely does one thing well, so it would be important to manage feature creep and keep additional content true to the philosophy of the product.
Next Steps:

What can be prioritized next to create even more impact for your users?
Customization would offer the greatest value to users, however adding complexity can disengage users if not done well. Customization can quickly turn into complexity and that could interfere with easy or use and speed. Interview subjects expressed how they were were disinterested in current offerings available because of inefficient bloat or complexity that was not of value to their needs. 
Though a series of testing and interviews I would first research to find the most popular requested features the app lacks and then test to see how best to implement those features while maintaining the simple task flow of making an entry.

A scan from my notebook — I assembled most of the various metrics that are currently used within cannabis lifestyle websites to rate strains. This kind of complexity was a major challenge to reduce in order to meet the demands on recreational users looking for a lightweight and elegant tracking and journaling solution.

Through this project, I aimed to:

1. Discover the most ideal simplified process to the extensive and complex variables that relate to cannabis.
2. Learn from people passionate about cannabis, and use that research to inform the design.
3. Build an effective digital version of a written journal, and leverage the advantages that come with a mobile app by providing a rich visual medium to help explore and define experience.
While considering some technological constraints:

1. The technology itself is a constraint. During user testing some users mentioned they may likely to be averse to using their phone at all when under the influence of cannabis. My target users did not have that concern though in interviews, but it still informed my decision to make the app almost childlike in design with very simple options and large hit states with high contrast to avoid any confusion and encourage use by impaired users.
2. Cannabis is a very new sector of the legitimate economy and building a current and ongoing database broad enough to account for the hundreds of strains available across Canada and the legalized States presents a challenge. There is an API available from Leafly, however it only works effectively sometimes, and seems to have more coverage in the United States than in Canada. How best to build the database of information and maintain it would have to be further explored. Manual entry might also be something to consider. I left it out of the app initially to focus on the consistent and reliable products offered by licensed producers, however a user may have consistent results from a grey or black market supplier, in which case they should maintain the ability to track their experiences — perhaps even more so when the product obtained is mysterious or unknown.
3. Privacy is a constraint. It affects users concerned about their sensitive writings as well as anyone mindful of the consequences of being associated with a product about cannabis.
One possibility to mitigate potential concerns might be to offer password and or biometric testing for app access. Another possibility might be to provide user selectable options for the App Icon that do not visually relate whatsoever to cannabis so as to not draw unwanted attention during phone use in public..
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